I have a confession to make: I could never get into Baroness. Try as I might (and despite my love for genre siblings like Mastodon), the American sludge/progressive metal group just never clicked with me on any of their previous outings. It’s with equal parts shock, awe, and bewilderment, then, that I can’t get enough of their latest LP, Gold & Grey. Framed as the final entry in their color-coded saga—preceded by 2007’s Red Album, 2009’s Blue Record, 2012’s Yellow & Green, and 2015’s Purple— Gold & Grey perfects Baroness’ formula in the course of offering something especially emotional, fluid, mature, and varied. It’s such a tour-de-force of their greatest assets, in fact, that it has the power to win over prior naysayers like myself. Longtime devotees are sure to be blown away with every moment.
Once again produced by Dave Fridmann, Gold & Grey marks the studio debut of guitarist/backing vocalist Gina Gleason, who replaces Peter Adams and who’s played with Carlos Santana and the Smashing Pumpkins, among others. Back in March, singer/guitarist John Baizley—who always does the gorgeous album artwork, too—told Brooklyn Vegan: “I’m sure we have just finished our best, most adventurous album to date. We dug incredibly deep, challenged ourselves and recorded a record I’m positive we could never again replicate.” For sure, it’s an exceptional sequence that truly feels like the culmination and full realization of all that came before it.
Without a doubt, Baroness is most celebrated for their entrancingly rhythmic fury, and this LP is chock full of those standout moments. Opener “Front Toward Enemy” grabs you immediately via some of the most riveting riffs and melodies the quartet ever cut. Bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson trudge along masterfully around those stylishly sharp guitar chords and sing-along declarations, too. The backing chants—a pervasive ethereal touch across Gold & Grey—adds dynamic emotion as well. From there, “I’m Already Gone” evokes the chilled out desperation of classic Dredge. “Tourniquet” infuses their standard aggression with lovely harmonies and acoustic guitar strums. “Throw Me an Anchor” is nearly catchy enough to reach commercial viability.
Elsewhere, the band increases their vibrant experimentation, such as with the desert rock serenity of “I’d Do Anything”. Featuring stacked arid singing, jangly piano chords, and swelling affective dissonance, it’s a harrowingly raw composition. Later, “Emmet -Radiating Light” uses nighttime gothic ambiance, foreboding bells, and rich harmonies to yield a haunting ballad. In contrast, “Cold-Blooded Angels” evolves from an empty psychedelic excursion to an out-of-control rebellion, whereas “Borderlands” juxtaposes hypnotically twisty six-string patterns with 1970s stadium rock fuzzy guitar licks. Each of these tracks sees Baroness taking themselves and their audience to suitable but surprising places.
As exceptional as those fully developed songs are, it’s the short interludes between them that elevate Gold & Grey from a mere collection of tunes to a singular and exhaustively profound statement. The first of these, “Seasons”, is an angelic passage consisting of wavering tones over a simple piano motif. A bit later, the aforementioned “Throw Me an Anchor” is preceded by “Anchor’s Lament”, a bellowing symphonic treat whose specific elements are best left to discover. About halfway in, “Blankets of Ash” ingeniously contrasts acoustic guitar arpeggios, heavenly harmonies, and downright ugly industrial noises. The extremely brief “Crooked Mile” is a chillingly alien six-string ode, while the penultimate “Assault on East Falls” imbues a bizarre electronic soundscape into the mix. Together, these passages find Baroness commendably broaching art rock territory.
If Gold & Grey can overwhelmingly impress someone who’s never gotten on the Baroness bandwagon, imagine how beloved it’ll be for those who’ve been there all along. Baizley shines like never before, Thomson and Jost continue to excel as a rhythmic duo, and newcomer Gleason infuses the set with rewarding and required vocal and instrumental supplemental shades. Together, their faultless unified elegance harvests cherished templates and innovative techniques in equal measure. As a result, just about every listener—no matter their history or prior opinions—will deem Gold & Grey Baroness’ masterpiece.